Parassala Ponnammal's concert underscored her veneration of Swati Tirunal and her gurus. She is the recipient of the Swati Puraskaram.
The one-and-a-half hour concert by Parassala Ponnammal, the matriarch of Carnatic music in Kerala and recipient of the Swati Puraskaram this year, stood out for its placidity and exposition of classicism. Her concert underscored the point that a musician endears herself/himself to rasikas only when the rendition is totally effortless on his/her part. Her concert was held at the Koothambalam of the Kerala Kalamandalam Deemed University for Art and Culture, Cheruthuruthy.
Sense of propriety
A sense of propriety was evident right from the first composition since the concert that followed the distribution of the government awards in the fields of music, theatre and so on, including the Swati Purasakaram, highlighted the musician's reverence for the great composer and her gurus.
Perhaps, this was the only occasion when a Swati Purasakaram awardee chose to render mainly Swati compositions in the concert following the award ceremony. Also, the selection of kritis appeared meticulous, since most of them demonstrated how the vilambita kaala compositions were evocative of the nuances of the ragas through enthralling delineations.
Seated on a chair, the 85-year-old musician opened with the pada varnam ‘Daani samajendra' in Todi, Adi tala. Though it took a few minutes for her to stabilise herself, she established a rapport with the audience soon.
Incidentally, the varnam had a special relevance to the institution. During the 1950s, the revival period of Mohiniyattam, it was this Sanskrit composition, perhaps the first varnam, which was choreographed in Kalamandalam. Further, it is a major item in the syllabus too. Ponnammal's rendition gave a rare opportunity for dance students and teachers to enjoy it in full, as the Mohiniyattam recital of the same usually embrace the composition only partially.
Ponnammal, who had paid glowing tributes to her gurus at the Swati Tirunal Music Academy, Harikesanellur Muthayya Bhagavathar and Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer, during her acceptance speech, chose the Natta kriti of Muthayya Bhagavathar, ‘Sakthi Ganapathim bhajeham,' in Roopakam. A short but sweet alapana preceded ‘Narasimha mamava bhagavan,' a Swati composition in Arabhi, jhampa tala, that has been immortalised by Semmangudi.
It takes years of experience on the concert stage for a musician to master the art of revealing the identity of a raga by a mere touch of a couple of swaras. ‘Pahitha rakshapuralaya mamayi pavanacharita,' the Swati kriti in Anandabhairavi, was a reminder of Ponnammal's virtuosity in that aspect. The gamakas and swaraprasthara revealed the myriad intrinsic shades of the raga.
Defying the advice of her disciples and the organisers, the octogenarian musician ventured into an elaboration of Kalyani, when she was already one hour through the concert. She took the Swati composition ‘Paripahi maamayi…' in misra chapu. The concert concluded with the famous Dhanasri tillana.
The concert was praiseworthy for the artistry of the accompanying artistes among whom the presence of the octogenarian percussionist Mavelikkara Velukutty Nair was an added attraction. While the dialogue between his mridangam and Tripunithura Radhakrishnan's ghatom in the tani was short, the duet of the two was really inspiring. The right proportion in which T.H. Subramaniam reproduced the vocalist's phrases on the violin deserves special mention.